Sunday, July 31, 2011


In every major religious movement, runs a trend towards so-called mysticism. Ecstatic movements and some forms of monasticism in Christianity, Sufism in Islam, Kaballah in Judaism, etc.

Can a Latter-day Saint gain any insight, learn any truth, from mysticism? Or should it all, like seances and ouija boards, be left alone as utterly incompatible with our faith?

I ask because my personal study of history and literature has now brought me to the Middle Ages, when Christian mysticism was all the rage, and I would like to understand its foundations. I read 30 pages of Dionysus the Areopagite's "The Divine Names" today and understood virtually nothing of it -- it seemed as bizzare and contradictory as the Tao philosophy of China. Clearly, some mental effort will be required to gain even a basic understanding.


Michaela Stephens said...

“Bizarre and contradictory.” Yes, there you have hit upon the very words to describe it. It seems like “The Divine Names,” from what I could gather from reading the first ‘caput’ and part of the second, is somebody’s contemplation on the nature of God by trying to logically examine divine names.
When it starts getting contradictory, as in the following case, you can know for sure that they have no idea what they are talking about:

“But, if the Good is above all things being, as indeed it is, and formulates the formless, even in Itself alone,
both the non-essential is a pre-eminence of essence,
and the non-living is a superior life,
and the mindless a superior wisdom,
and whatever is in the Good is of a superlative formation of the formless,
and if one may venture to say so, even the nonexistent itself aspires to the Good above all things existing, and struggles somehow to be even itself in the Good,----the really Superessential----to the exclusion of all things.”

Blather. Just. Blather.

It seems to me that these kinds of writings build from a chain of assumption as follows:
God is so great that it is impossible comprehend Him.
If God is so great, no positive adjective is good enough (so new ones must be invented.)
If God is so incomprehensible, then He must be paradoxical. Thus, no paradox should go unused when referring to Him.
(Interestingly enough, the belief in God’s inherent paradoxy never extends to the point of calling Him both good and evil.)
Result—Unless someone has an actual revelation, no one can say that the emperor has no clothes.

These kinds of things just make me love plainness and clarity that much more. Joseph Smith’s revelations are worth more than all of the Neo-Platonists put together!

Now your question. Can Latter-day Saints learn from this stuff? Truthfully, I don’t know. What I DO know is that we have the privilege of using what we already know to “prove all things.”

That’s my opinion anyway. Happy reading!

Clifford said...

Michaela, I think I am just going to read the book through, and not break my head trying to comprehend its meaning, since it is becoming likely that nobody does.